8

I remember in my childhood many elders advised me to avoid seeing owls.

That bird is considered inauspicious by many in the Hindu community. The most common reason cited for owls being inauspicious is that they have been associated with bad luck and death, and hence avoid them.

Contrary to this belief, an owl is generally depicted as the Vahana (mount) of Goddess Lakshmi who in Hinduism is considered the deity of wealth and prosperity.

So, confusingly, from one point of view seeing an owl is inauspicious, but in many images and idols, an owl is shown with Goddess Lakshmi, thus making this "inauspicious" bird visible to followers of Goddess Lakshmi.

Goddess Lakhmi with owl

Do any Hindu scriptures associate owls with bad luck and death? If not then what could be the reason for owls being believed to be inauspicious?

6

Owls and pigeons are mentioned in Vedas(Atharva Veda to be specific) as the messengers of Nirrti,the Goddess of misfortune ,destruction,poverty etc and hence they are considered inauspicious.

Nirrti also known as Alakshmi is considered to be Goddess Lakshmi's sister.

Quoting from this page:

VI, 27. Charm against pigeons regarded as ominous birds.

  1. O ye gods, if the pigeon, despatched as the messenger of Nirriti (the goddess of destruction), hath come here seeking (us out), we shall sing his praises, and prepare (our) ransom. May our two-footed and four-footed creatures be prosperous!....

    VI, 29. Charm against ominous pigeons and owls.

  2. Upon those persons yonder the winged missile shall fall! If the owl shrieks, futile shall this be, or if the pigeon takes his steps upon the fire!

  3. To thy two messengers, O Nirriti, who come here, despatched or not despatched, to our house, to the pigeon and to the owl, this shall be no place to step upon!

The owl and the pigeon are referred to in the above quote as the two messengers.

5

Auspicious and inauspicious events can be identified with some changes (such as excitements) in nature. Exited sounds and cooing sounds of birds denote bad and good omens respectively. Owl is considered to be nocturnal bird and it indicates bad omen if it flies during day times. Actually, it depends on time, place, direction, karana, sound and species. This is explained in detail in Agni Purana Chapter 231.

Puskara said :

  • Birds let us know the good and bad indications for a man staying or leaving a country or town or (putting) a question.

  • All excited sounds are pointed out to indicate evil according to fortune-tellers and cooing sounds are said to indicate good results by fortune-tellers.

  • The excitements of birds are said to be of six kinds based on the divisions of time, direction, place, karapa (a division of the day), the sound and the species (of the bird).

  • Each preceding (item in the above list) should be known as more powerful. The nocturnal (bird) moving in the day-time and that of the day-time moving in the night (are to be the excitement in time). One should know the malefic asterisms, ascendants and planets also as excited. It is known to be dhümitä (obscured), jvatita (burning) and angäritä (burnt) if the sun goes to or stays or leaves (a particular quarter). These three are remembered to be the excited ones and the gentle (Cooings) are of five kinds.

  • It is said to be agitated bird if it makes an excited sound in the direction that is (termed) agitated. Similar (appellations should be given) to wild (birds making sound) in the village and the village (birds) in the forest as well as on an inauspicious tree. O Foremost brahmin ! The desadipta (agitation in respect of a place) is known to be in inauspicious place. It is designated as kriyådiPta (excitement in respect of an action) if there is any action improper for one's own species. It is said to be the rutadipta (excitement in respect of sound) making broken and harsh sounds. It is known to be the jatidipta (excitement in respect of the species) in the case of the carnivorous species alone.

  • If the excited characteristics of different categories occur together it is stated to be good. If they are mixed the result is said to be mixed.

  • The snakes, peacocks, ruddy geese, mules, pigeons, cows, light-brown horses, wild cocks, hawks, jackals, wag-tails,monkeys, sataghna , sparrows, cuckoos, blue jays, hawks, kapinjala the three, tittiri (francoline partridge), peacocks, pigeons, wag-tails, gallinules, parrots, cranes, cocks, skylarks and deer are known to be moving about during daytime.

  • The fowlers, owls, farabhas, curlews, hares, turtles, jackals and pingalikas (a kind of owl) are said to be nocturnal.

  • Ganders, deer, cats, mongooses, bears, serpents, red dogs, lions, tigers, camels, domestic boars, men, dogs, porcupines, bulls, jackals, wolves, cuckoos, cranes, horses, men in ragged clothes and alligators wander day and night.

  • The above seen in a group in front (of the king) making an expedition with the forces are stated to bring victory and seen on the back cause defeat.

  • The strong omen from a bird as one sets out on a day should be explained by wise men as bearing result on the same day. O Brahmin ! Mad ones, those concerned only with the prey, young ones, those mutually quarrelling and those separated by a distance should be known to bear no effect. The vixen howling alone or in groups of two or three or four forebode good. It is said to be not beneficial if five or six (vixen howl). It would be good if seven (vixen howl) and there would be no effect if more than that.

So, we need to examine subtle to holistic changes in nature to understand how these characteristics of animals, birds foretell omens. Please read (Ch- 229- 233) in Volume 2 of Agni Purana for information on these omens.

2

According to ancient texts, Lakshmi is always accompanied by Alakshmi who is a twin sister of Lakshmi but personifies Daridra (poverty), Kalaha (strife) etc. It is considered inauspicious to portray Alakshmi, hence art scholars are of the opinion that an owl was chosen to represent her.

When Lakshmi and Alakshmi(owl) as seen together, a balance is maintained but an owl as a sole entity is hence considered inauspicious.

There are different stories around Alakshmi but all trickle down to the same conclusion that she represents negativity.

Refer: Devdutt Patnaik's Blog

PS: This answer is just based on my readings. I don't actually believe in such superstitions.

  • 1
    Welcome to Hinduism.SE and thanks for posting. However, your post talks more about the Alakshmi and does not clarify why Owl is inauspicious. Also, you should cite sources from scriptures while answering on this Site. – AADHinduism Apr 22 '16 at 6:10
  • @WhisperingMonk Thanks for your input. I have added a reference. Alakshmi and Owl are synonymous and I have written why they are synonymous. So whatever applies to Alakshmi, it applies to the owl as well. – Shalabh Aggarwal Apr 22 '16 at 6:26
  • @ShalabhAggarwal: Devdutt Pattnaik does not acknowledge that Ramayana and Mahabharata actually happened. He is a populist writer. I would avoid posting using his references. – Amit Saxena Apr 22 '16 at 11:57
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    @AmitSaxena Even if you ignore Devdutt Patnaik, wikipedia refers to same inference. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alakshmi Make sure to go through the references at the end of the wikipedia page. – Shalabh Aggarwal Apr 26 '16 at 5:16

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